The UN, working in tandem with the industrialized countries, has proposed that non-governmental organizations and other voluntary organizations become prominent participants in civil society at all levels. This proposal, offered with the full realization and intent to capitalize on human, opportunistic tendencies, offers gains for an international economic and political power grab, and the desire of special interests for a cut of the benefits. The golden rule of bureaucratic “success” is the increase of clientele, personnel and funding.

NGOs and voluntary organizations, in this instance, stand to gain access to larger populations, increased funding through access to tax dollars and foundational grants, and the building of prestige through “touching the hems” of world leaders. The international power and money elites, on the other hand, increase their ability to extend programs through NGO outreach, and increase the “useability” of national monies through access to the budgets of NGOs and voluntary organizations.

In the United States, just plugging into non-profit groups that obtain payments from welfare funds could leverage “useable” federal funds to carry out UN policies through programs such as Aid for Dependent Children, Medicaid and Medicare, job-training programs, day care, drug education programs, etc.

Canadian NGOs

A profile of Canadian NGOs, which are described as a small part of the larger voluntary and non-profit sector, includes at least 55,000 organizations registered in Canada. This number jumps to 72,000 if all registered charities are included, such as individual churches and fund-raising arms of universities and hospitals. This does not represent all voluntary activity, since not all groups are registered, nor is all spontaneous community activism recorded. In fact, voluntary groups whose principal advocacy is political action are prevented from becoming registered charities. The Canadian Centre for Philanthropy estimates charities provide 354,000 full-time jobs and pay a total of $13 billion in salaries. These figures do not include the dollar value of volunteer assistance often utilized in the voluntary sector.

The means and purposes of government co-option of the private sector have been described in strategies laid out by Professor Lester M. Salamon, director of the Johns Hopkins Institute of Policy Studies. Salamon, speaking at a seminar held at the Japanese Federation of Economic Organizations, described the advantage of access to private funds in NGO budgets. NGOs often collect fee incomes from third-party payments provided by national social security programs, public health insurance schemes and social service programs, and from union funds and professional and business funds, besides other sources. Also, where public and private investments bolster NGO efforts, private funds are unregulated by government, providing NGOs (and ultimately international political and economic interests) with the ability to provide services uninhibited by government regulation, through the artful use of the “private fund reservoir.”

Salamon’s innovative approach faults UN rules and regulations that classify “any organization that receives half or more of its income from government” as a government agency. He also critiques UN rules that hold “any organization receiving half or more of its income from fees or charges for the sale of its services” is classified as “part of the market system.” Not only does this practice limit the input of the “non-profit sector” to a “marginalized” few, notes Salamon, but it also runs counter to Salamon’s (and the John Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies’) intent “to create local capacity in each of the countries.” Having theoretically “opened the gates” for government-funded groups, Salamon cleverly side-slipped into an expanded definition of NGOs through their general designation as “non-profit organizations.”

Limited criteria

Salamon’s redefinition opened for inclusion in the UN “civil society” all formal non-profit organizations, registered or unregistered with the UN. The limited criteria accepted by Salamon were: that such groups be organized, and exist, in the private rather than in the public sector; that they be self-governing; and that “voluntary involvement” be a part of the groups’ activities. Additional criteria excluded religious (that is, temples, churches, synagogues and congregations) and political groups. However, this would not eliminate religiously based non-profits in the social service sector, such as Catholic Charities, Lutheran Social Services, Catholic Relief Services, etc.

Loathe to wait for the future to “happen” as international elites urged them on, non-governmental organizations thought they smelled the lucre waiting to be harvested for their treasuries and went into action. One particularly enterprising group, the World Alliance for Citizen Participation, provides a glimpse of the international sophistication at work in the global civil society marketplace.

The organization was launched in April 1991 when two major U.S.-based, USAID-funded organizations, The Independent Sector and the Council on Foundations – along with the European Foundation Centre – were invited by 10 “private philanthropies” to examine “the need to bring non-profit organizations together on a worldwide basis.” After ratification by an “Exploratory International Committee,” the decision was made to enlist founding members, propose an organizational framework and prepare a formal constitution. The organization was formally organized under the name “Civicus: World Alliance for Citizen Participation.”

Civicus is an international “organizer of organizations” whose members and supporters include non-governmental organizations, corporate groups and foundations such as the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Centre for Global Community and World Law, the Ford Foundation, and noted population-control supporters, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, as well as the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. Civicus’s “World Circle of Friends” includes David Rockefeller of the U.S. and Desmund Tutu of South Africa. All have “banded together for caring and mutual protection,” in order to extend their “virtues of solidarity and responsibility to the public sphere on a global scale.” Government agencies, according to Civicus, have now begun acting as “catalysts” of NGO networks.


The shape of the future is “networking,” according to these poetic, master organizers; that is, networking through “horizontal” relationships. In horizontal relationships, “their centres are everywhere; their peripheries, nowhere.” Leadership shifts, organizations adjust to changing circumstances, and, when no longer needed, disappear. This is a function of “planetary citizenship” expanding into the “global arena” through “citizenship institutions” which have “an inner power over themselves.” Their “rationale is not in themselves,” it is “in the job to be done.”

It isn’t sufficient to “ignore differences in culture, religions, languages or ethnicity” and embrace “diversity” as “the most distinctive characteristic of mankind.” That’s just not enough. It is necessary for “citizen initiatives” which spring spontaneously out of “compassion, love, concern for others” to articulate “a new ethical and moral code,” a set of “universal human values.” In other words, societal values are to be disconnected from any cultural or religious anchorage other than an amorphous “altruism” which relocates and coughs up dollars upon demand by those who have managed to amalgamate political and economic power.

Clearly, for Civicus and others, the condition of humankind as marked by “dependence, apathy, secrecy and corruption … self-centeredness, profit-over-people orientation, and widespread alienation,” means depression is immanent. While such poetic nodes indicate a probable vacuum of values for these particular sufferers, their views are not necessarily shared throughout the world, to say the least. Nor would they be welcomed by many cultures (they may very well be considered either amusing or offensive), yet these are the folks who intend to assume representation for the entire world’s electorate. That is indeed depressing.